24 June -2016, East Doncaster, Melbourne, Australia
I’m going to say a few words about Jim’s time at Hart Design as he was good enough to employ me for 20 years so I probably know as much as anyone about this time.
The first thing I’ve got to say is how does someone pushing 80 (rub shiny bald head, looking mystified) have that much hair??? Jim started out on his own in the middle of the early ‘90s recession. These were not easy circumstances in which to be an architect. Many others were struggling or going out of business as Jim was trying to start up. He had courage in his convictions, but I think it was also driven by necessity.
He started working out of the downstairs games room in the family home at Warrandyte. He soon outgrew that and moved in to Fitzroy, first sharing with another firm then later taking space above a shop in Brunswick Street. All the while he was showing faith in young graduate architects to help him build his business.
He quickly built a healthy client base, particularly with health and aged care projects. Many of these were return clients who showed the same faith in Jim that Jim was showing in his staff. Jim found out subsequently that the office in Brunswick Street was at different points in time the local Communist Party headquarters and a former brothel. He looked pretty happy with himself when he found that out.
While proud of the projects he did (inc. the Maryborough Hospital Redevelopment and Western Hospital projects) I think Jim would agree his greatest legacy is not necessarily the physical buildings but the number and quality of young architects he gave a start to. Everyone loved Jim; clients, consultants and staff. Particularly his staff.
Early on he created the infamous, long standing tradition of the weekly Friday lunch. No wonder the staff liked him. Don’t get me wrong – the office worked hard during the week, but Jim knew the importance of staff morale and made sure that we enjoyed ourselves every Friday afternoon. Because of this tradition Jim gained quite a profile on Brunswick St. I’d forgotten about this, but one particular restaurant owner ended up feeding us port after our meal every time we went there. I don’t think we ever asked for it even once. Thanks Jon for reminding me.
This is the same place that Anne and I decided would be the perfect place for our “wedding reception”. Well, more of a rowdy meal with 75 of our friends and family, and we can thank Jim for that. Over the past week I’ve been struck by how many former staff have been in contact to tell me pretty much the same thing, that is that Jim kick started their careers. As one former Hart Design employee (who is here today) said so eloquently, Jim let people “test their design skills and spread their wings”. Thanks Anna. This was rarely gained from working in larger firms where graduates are not given that level of responsibility.
In short, his staff just loved him. And the feeling was mutual. What gave him most satisfaction in work was giving young people the chance to develop their skills and confidence. On a personal note, as I’ve tried to establish myself in photography he was always supportive and encouraging.
That’s the sort of guy he was - supportive and encouraging. Thank you